Following Spain and Great Britain’s agreement to cease the trafficking of enslaved African people by 1845, Cuban plantation owners or hacendados and Spanish merchants looked to the United States for political support. There, southern states continued to rely on slave labor until 1865.
In addition, annexation was a way to break free from Spanish control. Many friends of Saco, including his self-proclaimed long-time disciples, “Jóvenes Ilustrados,” urged him to join the annexation movement.
But in his letters, Saco resolutely rejects the idea, explaining that Cuba would receive inferior treatment from the US, and feeling that giving up on the dream of sovereignty would be a great loss.
“I want Cuba to be for Cubans” (Obras 47).
Thus, in the midst of a growing interest in annexation, Saco published Ideas sobre la incorporación de Cuba en los Estados Unidos the 1st of November of 1848, listing the reasons why annexation to the US, though seemingly advantageous, would actually be dangerous for Cuba.
He begins his objection by listing the perils of a peaceful union to the US, then considers the risks of annexation through revolution. Even a peaceful transition, he reasons, would result in a complete loss of Cuba as we know it.
Because there are only 500,000 white men in the island, its local population would quickly be replaced by Anglo-Americans, resulting in the loss of cuban culture and voting power. And rather than benefiting from the technical knowledge of the US, cuban culture, which is so different to the anglo-american, would be absorbed by it. Cuba would become unrecognisable, he regrets, and one would feel a foreigner in one’s own land. Ultimately, his wish is that
“If Cuba were to separate from the trunk it belongs to, it would always remain for Cubans, and not for a foreign race.” (8)
After establishing these issues with a peaceful union to the US, Saco goes on to reveal those associated with an armed revolution. One of his major fears is that the criollo community in Cuba, who affiliate with Spain, would join the Spanish armed forces against cuban rebels.
He believes that after having lost Mexico to the US, the Spanish clinged to Cuba as one of the last sources of power in the Americas, and the criollos who enjoyed this power in Cuba would fight to keep it. Therefore, not only would Cubans lack support from the criollo population, a civil war might ensue.
The response to this direct affront to annexation was highly critical–even his dear friend José Luis Alfonso expressed disappointment in Saco’s stance. By 1850, however, anti-annexation attitudes gained more ground, and at least his friend and loyal pupil Domingo del Monte proposed the publication of an anti-annexation newspaper.
Though this plan did not come to fruition, in 1850 Saco publishes Replica de Don José Antonio Saco a los Anexionistas que han Impugnado sus ideas sobre la incorporación de Cuba a los Estados Unidos, in which, in addition to his previous arguments, he adds that considering all the other (to him less promising) islands that have established themselves as powerful nations in the global sphere, Cuba has the potential to play a significant role in the world. And writes,
“why would I close my heart to any hope, become the executioner of the nationality of my homeland?” (63)